Jun 062014

It was nearly 7:30pm already by the time I reached my hotel, the Sheraton Quito. Nice touch number one: was met carside by the valet/doorman with an umbrella, so I didn’t get too terribly wet in the downpour. Now that’s service…and from a Sheraton! Check-in was pretty slow, taking nearly 20 minutes, but after asking if there might be any suites available for upgrade, they did find a nice junior suite for me.

It was happy hour, and I had lounge access, so decided to go check it out since it was still pouring rain.  I was the only person in the lounge, and had a few small munchies and a couple of glasses of wine while I waited for the rain to let up.  The hour I was there, I was the only person in the lounge…which kind of made me wonder why they had it open.  After an hour of browsing the local area for places to eat, and the rain letting up to a steady drizzle, I decided to first go for a walk around the block.  Couldn’t find either of the places I was looking for, but did manage to find a local ripoff of the Pinkberry frozen yogurt chain in DC.  Or maybe this came first…not sure.


Didn’t find anything in my wander, so headed to the huge shopping mall near my hotel.  Nothing that looked special there, and so far a TGI Fridays was looking like the best bet.  It was almost 9pm at this point and I was getting seriously hungry.  One more loop around the block, and I found a Chilis, lol.  I was hungry, and it sounded good…plus the rain was getting heavier again, so I went in.  Are you serious….a 2 hour wait for a table…maybe 90 minutes at the bar?  I’ll pass.

Kept walking back towards the hotel and came across a little steak place right across from the Sheraton whose name I can’t remember.  But hey, they had sangria, so all was not lost:


Unfortunately, my steak was terrible.  It was way overcooked, and way too gristly.  I guess my expectations were just too high after having great steaks all over south america.  Oh well!  At least it was filling.  Decided to skip on desert, call it a night, and get up early to explore.


Still managed to sleep in until nearly 9am, just in time to go up and grab breakfast in the lounge.  A decent selection of hot and cold items, and plenty to fuel me for the day.  Once again, I was the only person in the lounge.  I was beginning to wonder what was going on.  There were wedding decorations all over the hotel, so clearly it was pretty full, but for whatever reason nobody was using the lounge.  Oh well!

Went downstairs and asked the bellman to get me a taxi to go explore, and he highly recommended using a hotel car and negotiating a rate for all the stops I wanted to make.  I had three stops planned, and the driver was more than happy to negotiate a flat rate for 6 hours.  Sold…I wouldn’t have to worry about finding cars, leaving things in the car, etc.  Maybe cost $20 or so more in the end, but well worth it to not have to think about safety/etc.

First stop was the TelefériQo (get it?  Teleférico and Quito combined?  Clever) which is a cable car that starts at about 10,000 feet and rises to nearly 13,000 feet and was supposed to have great views over the city.  Paid my $8.50, and got a Sacagawea in change…I never even see those in the US, but apparently they’re alive and well in Ecuador.  This was one of many times I got one.


There was absolutely no line, got my own gondola, and up I go.  But first…let me take a #selfie


Great views of the city from the Gondola…I was getting a bit of fear of heights at this point….


At the top, I paused briefly to catch my breath…and start a hike further up the mountain.  First stop was a small church:



Notice how thick the fog/clouds were up here.  Further up the trail, I ran into a group of friendly, albeit a little bit skittish alapacas/llamas.  (I’ve given up trying to tell them apart at this point.)



View down on the church from further up the trail, showing just how thick the fog and clouds are:


Walked back down towards the gondola after an hour or so of slow hiking, and saw a nice altitude warning.  Don’t run?  Um, don’t think there’s much danger of that, although I saw a couple of crazy locals running.  It was hard enough just catching my breath to walk uphill at this altitude.


One last selfie, looking down over the city:


Back in the car, and we headed out on the roughly hour drive to the Mitad del Mundo, or small tourist trap/town that sits right on the equator.  As we approached, iPhone GPS confirmed we were indeed right on the equator.


We passed the equator, and took a quick stop that my driver recommended at the Pululahua Botanical Gardens.  It had some nice views of the local area, and was worth the 15 minutes, but didn’t see a reason to spend much more:



Next up was the main attraction, the equator monument itself.  Now, for some reason, the monument (despite claiming otherwise) doesn’t actually sit on the equator.  It’s almost 400 meters away for some reason, but hey, it’s the thought that counts?  Right?  Plus, where it sits is still close enough that you can do neat equator tricks like balancing an egg on the head of a nail, and flushing toilets and watching the water go straight down instead of swirling in either direction.  The monument itself:


Asked a couple German tourists with a super-expensive looking camera to take a picture of me, figuring if they were that into photography they could manage a simple iPhone.  I wasn’t disappointed at all with the outcome, and they seriously took several minutes posing it and getting just the right angle, lol.  Backing up a second, this has become my travel strategy.  First, try and find someone with an expensive looking camera to take your picture…chances are they know what they’re doing.  If not, find a Japanese tourist – even if they’re not good at it, they seem to take SO many pictures of everything that they’re likely to be able to use an iPhone camera.


I don’t know the back story on why the Star of David, but apparently Bill Clinton visited here too:


A hard day of touring had left me thirsty.  There was a small tourist village set up around the monument, and many locals seemed to be making a day of their visit.  So, I felt it was perfect to grab a local beer and people watch.


The equator must be protected!


I was also a bit hungry, and needed something to go with the beer.  There was a delicious smell coming from some nearby rotisseries, so I ordered some…not completely sure what it was.  It turned out to be cuy…or guinea pig.  I have to admit, it was completely delicious on the rotisserie 😉


Finally got back to the hotel around 5pm, and once again…it was pouring rain.  I was hoping to go visit the old town briefly, but didn’t feel like a long walk in the downpour.  Plus, I knew I’d be coming back to Quito again one day to visit the Galapagos, so didn’t feel too bad leaving something to see.  In between rain bursts, I took a walk of the neighbourhood around the hotel.  Hula aerobics and pole dancing…who would have guessed!


Also found a large grocery store…with 32 checkout lines.  This place was absolutely massive, and put many large American supermarkets to shame.  You can’t really tell in this pic, but each register was 8-10 people deep to checkout. The place was absolutely mobbed!


Stopped by the lounge for happy hour again, which was once again completely empty.  I noticed they’d reused many of the appetizers from the night before (one bite could tell they’d been sitting in the fridge overnight) so at least I didn’t feel too bad about being the only one.  That said, I had no desire to eat things that had been sitting out that long.  I had a very early flight the next morning, and it was still pouring, so yes, I went “local” for dinner:


I mean, who can turn down 2-for-1 margaritas?  Right?  The quality of the food was pretty low, even for chilis.  The appetizers had clearly been frozen a long time, and tasted dried out.  Maybe they ship them all the way from the US?  Who knows?  While “junk food” sometimes can hit the spot, this just wasn’t doing it.  But, with a few margaritas, it didn’t so much matter anyways 😉

Early to bed, since I had to be up well before dawn for the long route home….

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